It may take time for Las Vegas to get accustomed to the fact that the name of Town Square’s newest barbecue pit Pot Liquor has absolutely nothing to do with cannabis products. But there’s definitely liquor involved. Bolstered by deviled eggs and house-made pork rinds dipped in Crystal hot sauce, I recently waded into the 16-cocktail menu, a collaboration between mixologist Christian Hall, formerly of Aria, and JR Starkus of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada.
Don’t expect seriously boozy, spirit-forward cocktails here—this isn’t the place. Pot Liquor—the name actually in reference to the broth that remains after preparing Southern-style greens (collard, mustard, etc.) with pork—wants you to stay upright in your seat, all the better to tuck into Texas-style beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork and, natch, collard greens with pot liquor. With that in mind, Hall and Starkus kept it light, establishing a lemonade bar from which eight cocktails and a shandy can be whipped up fast. Eight more cocktails nod in the general direction of such classics as the Blood & Sand and the Horse’s Neck.
“I wanted to test myself,” Hall says about the challenge of making barbecue-friendly drink. He actually started his career in 2007 as a financial analyst with MGM Resorts International. But the cubical life was not for him. Hall bartended his way through college at UNLV and fell in love with the business. After year and half in a suit at Project City Center, he opened Aria as a 30-year-old barback and worked his way up to bartender at Aria’s American Fish.
He can still balance a spreadsheet like it’s nobody’s business. But I, too, much prefer his latest work. Here’s what we tasted.
Broke & Bloodied
It’s easy to see why Hall’s take on the Blood & Sand won an internal cocktail competition during his time at Aria. Instead of the usual Scotch, Hall turned to St. George Spirits’ Breaking & Entering bourbon and added Heering cherry liqueur, Solerno Blood Orange liqueur, orange juice and Angostura aromatic bitters. As Breaking & Entering supplies are waning, making it increasingly hard to find, Hall is migrating over to Evan Williams bourbon. But the name will stick. $10.95.
Since so many cocktails are built from a base of fresh lemon juice and sugar, Hall and Starkus used fresh lemonade to make eight cocktails fast, including this twist on Hall’s favorite drink, the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Hall replaced the traditional gin with Prairie cucumber vodka and added lemonade, fresh cucumber and a touch of Grande Absente absinthe for a layer of complexity. $10.95.
Pot Liquor Bloody Mary
It had to show up in a cocktail at some point, right? And this is the perfect vehicle for the meaty, bitter flavors of the greens broth. “It takes very little, goes very far,” Hall says. Pot liquor from the kitchen is mixed with apple juice and apple cider vinegar before it goes into a tomato juice base with Old Bay, Worcestershire, mustard powder, olive brine and Crystal hot sauce. He adds Pinnacle vodka (though not quite enough, I would argue), and garnished with two olives, a lemon wedge and a thick slice of tangy, locally made Nevada Brining Co. pickle brined with peppers and Nevada whiskey from Henderson’s own Las Vegas Distillery. Those pickles will soon sold in Pot Liquor’s retail area. $9.95.
Starkus’s play on the Horse’s Neck couldn’t be simpler: Pig’s Nose blended Scotch lengthened with ample ginger ale and ice, bitters and a swath of grapefruit peel. Why lighten up the classics? “[Classic cocktails can be] very boozy, so they tend to … shorten a guest experience,” Hall says, playfully. Hence the lemonade bar, or turning a shorter or boozier drink into a long drink. $10.95.
Hall’s preferred recipe started with the one he inherited at American Fish, using orange bitters instead of any muddled orange flesh or rind. He starts by zesting the inside of a glass with lemon oils, then adds sugar, bitters, Wild Turkey rye and a Luxardo maraschino cherry garnish. Obviously, the booziest cocktail you’ll find here. $9.95.Apple Mint Julep
Another example of stretching out a classic. Instead of bourbon over crushed ice with sugar and a mint sprig, you’ll get getting J.P. Wiser’s rye, apple juice, mint simple syrup and fresh mint. It’s light, refreshing and not overly sweet, and the apple notes complement both the rye and your plate of ’cue. $9.95.
Starkus get the final word with this ultimate crowd–pleaser, a take on the Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea) for which he combines Stillhouse Peach Tea moonshine with ginger ale and lemonade. The peachy, sweet-tea-flavored moonshine liqueur is the ideal pairing for spicy barbecue. And thanks to a pretty low-alcohol content (40 proof), you can throw back a few and still stand a chance of finishing your meal. $9.95.